An After-School Survival Guide

I have this very distinct memory of my first year teaching kindergarten. I had a lovely little JK girl in my class. We’ll call her Sarah. Sarah was an amazing kid: independent, intelligent, friendly, and attentive. About 6 weeks into the school year, Sarah’s mom called me and, in a somewhat accusatory manner, demanded to know what was going on in my classroom. She insisted that Sarah was exhibiting major behaviours at home. She was defiant, emotional and extremely argumentative. Things she had never been before. She insisted that Sarah must have learned these behaviours at school. I was floored. Not only was that not at all what I saw at school from Sarah, we didn’t have any major behaviour issues in our class at all. Childless me was very confused after that conversation and it has never left me. How could a child be so completely different at home and at school? Where was her behaviour coming from? And why?

Fast forward 5 years when my own daughter started JK. About 6 weeks into the school year the light bulb went off. After all that time, I finally understood what Sarah’s mom meant. My own independent, intelligent, friendly and attentive daughter was an absolute beast at home. She was defiant, emotional and extremely argumentative. The only difference is I didn’t call the teachers accusingly, haha. But by their reports Ayla was a model pupil all day.

So what was happening?! Ayla and Sarah weren’t turning into terrible children. They hadn’t picked up on bad behaviours at school. They were exhausted! They’d spend all day being on their best behaviour: following instructions, being more independent than ever before, and being super stimulated in a busy classroom of close to thirty children. Once they got home they literally were incapable of regulating themselves anymore! Ayla often burst into tears as she got off the bus and the rest of the evening was spent “managing” her.

Ayla is now in grade one and over the last two school years we worked hard to find an after-school routine that didn’t require too much energy, but that was engaging enough to keep her awake until bedtime. She is not the type of child that could catch a short nap after school. This would result in not being able to fall to sleep and being even more miserable the next day!

A huge lesson we learned is that screen time is NOT a good idea for Ayla. It does hold her interest, keep her calm and doesn’t require too much energy, but for whatever reason, when that screen goes off, she is way worse than before. More emotional, more argumentative and she has a very hard time falling to sleep at bedtime. So we decided early on that TV/iPad after school was a very bad idea. Whenever I’d feel lazy or tired and think “oh what harm could a little TV do”, I’d live to regret it and vow, silently, never to turn it on again.

So, without further ado, here are the important lessons we have learned for after-school survival:

Must-dos

A lesson we learned quickly is to get any must-dos out of the way as soon as she arrives home. For Ayla this means hanging up her backpack, putting her communication folder (JK/SK) or agenda (grade one) on the table and emptying her lunch bag.

At first I felt bad making her do these things right away. I wanted to give her a break and time to rest, but this always resulted in her backpack being left in the doorway, an unpacked lunch and notes being missed. I know, I know, I could just do these things for her, but in our family we each have responsibilities and these are things Ayla can easily do for herself. Even when she doesn’t want to. Even when I have to remind her (which you will until they become habit). The way I look at it is, there are lots of things in a day that I don’t really want to do or don’t feel like doing, but they need done anyways. It’s a life skill and one that will serve her, as she gets older. Plus if it becomes habit now maybe, just maybe, it won’t be a fight as she gets older (hey, one can dream).

Make Time to Connect

I make sure I am completely distraction free as I greet Ayla from the bus. My phone is away, my mind is clear of my to-do list and I’m present in the moment. This is key in helping her transition into the house after a long day.

I set aside 10-15 minutes to connect with her. I listen if she feels like talking, but I do not bombard her about her day or really ask her anything at all. We often cuddle on the couch, read books or sit outside before coming in. Sometimes she needs more of a physical connection (cuddling, holding hands, etc.) and sometimes she wants an emotional one and cannot wait to tell me about something that happened that day. I let her lead this time, I just make sure I am 100% hers.

It sounds so simple, but it makes such an impact. Last year was really hard on her as I was on maternity leave. Her Daddy is sometimes home during the week and on those days she was the only member of the family leaving the home. She missed us and thought often about what she was missing out on at home. So by giving her my undivided attention for even just a short period of time, it is reaffirming that I missed her and she is important to me.

Snack

I’m not sure if this is universal, but Ayla comes home ravenous. She eats all of her food at school most days (and it is a lot!), but no matter what she needs a snack and pronto! On days that I am home, I usually have her snack made and ready to go for when she gets off the bus and finishes her must-dos.

This is also part of the reason she empties her lunch right away. If she didn’t have a chance to finish something, she always starts with it. Important side note: This is her choice and not a punishment. If she didn’t like something, she does not have to finish it!

So what makes a good after school snack? Protein and/or fat! A favourite of mine is veggies and hummus. She’s usually so hungry that she’s happy to munch on raw veggies and then we just leave them out and they become a side dish for our dinner.

Other options:

– pretzels/crackers and hummus;

– apple and peanut butter;

– smoothies;

– fruit and nuts;

– roasted chickpeas.

We try to have something healthy and satiating, but not so filling that she won’t eat her dinner, which is usually only an hour later.

Invitations to Play/Create

A calming, rock and water invitation
lifeoutsidethebox.ca

If you follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/lifeoutsidethebox.ca ) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/living_life_outside_the_box/) you have likely seen some of the after-school invitations to play/create I have set out for Ayla.

These invitations are often process art (http://lifeoutsidethebox.ca/?s=process+art), transient art or sensory activities. They require little to no assistance and have a calming effect. I prepare them before she is home and put the required materials onto a tray. This both helps with aesthetic appeal and allows me to prep before hand and bring out as needed.

I always prepare one for Rory too, as this is definitely his grumpiest part of the day as he transitions out of napping.

I set them out on the kitchen table while they are eating snack. I usually sit down with them for the first few minutes, to connect, to make sure they have what they need. Then I use this time to start making dinner, wash lunch dishes and pack lunch for the next day.

Podcasts/Gentle Music

This is something we’ve only recently discovered and I wish we had thought of it sooner. Honestly, it is a lifesaver! While the kids are engaged with their invitation to play/create we put on a favourite podcast or some relaxing music. It helps focus them and it avoids sibling spats.

One of our current favourite podcasts is called “Big Life Kids” (https://biglifejournal.com ).  It is all about having a growth mindset and perseverance. We also love “Stories” (storiespodcast.com and there is a show they listen to on the TuneInRadio app (https://tunein.com/) called “Pants on Fire” (https://tunein.com/podcasts/Kids–Family-Podcasts/Pants-on-Fire-p1124315/).

Get Outside

Getting outside is so calming. lifeoutsidethebox.ca

We tend to eat dinner fairly early, around 5pm, which means we always have some extra time after eating. And because all our must-dos get done right away, we usually end up with a good hour, sometimes more, of free time.

Going outside is a great way to get some exercise and get through until bedtime without major meltdowns. Fall is definitely in the air and we are reminded that we want to enjoy this beautiful weather and the daylight while we still can! My children are always happier outside and quite honestly that applies to myself as well.

Taking a Bath

I know a lot of families take baths as part of their bedtime routine and sometimes we do too. But on days that Ayla comes home extra grumpy and extra tired, a bath may happen before dinner. Sometimes she just needs to be alone and a nice, warm bath is a wonderful way to bring her some peace. It’s relaxing and rejuvenating!

I hope this guide has been helpful. If you have a little one that has just started school, don’t be alarmed if they are beyond exhausted. It is a big day and a huge transition for their little bodies. Even if your child has been in daycare, there is a new level of independence expected in kindergarten, a faster pace of learning and doing and a higher teacher/child ratio so it will still be a transition. It takes some time for everyone to adjust, including you mama! So show yourself and that sweet little person some grace as you figure out your new normal.

Camping with Kids

5 Lessons I Learned While Camping with 5 Kids

Jamie and I were feeling brave back in the spring when we decided to go camping as a family and take our friends’ two children as well. As the time crept closer, I started to feel a bit nervous about keeping 5 kids (and a dog) happy, entertained and well…alive.

I’m happy to report that we not only managed to do those three things, we actually had a lot of fun doing it. Things have certainly changed since we used to camp just the two of us, but we learned some valuable lessons for our next camping trip.

1.) Spray Sunscreen

Normally I’m the crunchy mom that throughly reads sunscreen ratings on EWG.org and carefully selects one that I’m pretty certain won’t give my children cancer or cause them reproductive issues (if you think I’m kidding, check out the website). But, applying (and applying, and applying…) thick, “natural” sunscreen to 5 kids on a sandy beach is enough to make anyone lose it.

Thankfully my bestie had packed a spray and I found another one in the trailer. I learned real quick that this was the way to go. Except for the baby… she still got the cancer-free, reproductive system friendly sunscreen. Sorry big kids!

The afternoon of day two was spent on the beach, just me and the kids. Jamie was busy moving the trailer to a new site (one with hydro which wasn’t available the first night). I hadn’t yet learned the sunscreen lesson and I was diligently applying and reapplying the thick paste on the kids. By the time I applied, then re-applied and re-applied, I got pretty lazy and half-heartedly applied some to myself. I couldn’t reach my back and the kids were eyeball deep in wet sand, so I got quite the burn. Whoops! If I’d had the darn spray with me, I wouldn’t have been too lazy to lather myself up well AND I could have sprayed some on my back. Lesson learned.

UPDATE: I found a spray sunscreen at the health food store. EWG still doesn’t recommend them, BUT it’s actually a cream in spray form.

Fun at the beach

2.) Food – Lots of it

Basically think about how much food your kids normally eat. Even in the summer when they are outside from sun up to sun down. Then multiple that by about 472 and you may just pack enough.

I was floored by how much they ate! I’m used to my kids eating constantly, particularly Ayla, but this was next level. Next time, I will be more prepared with healthy made ahead snacks like muffins, banana bread, etc. I did make some chocolate avocado bread that the kids thought were brownies (I mean I didn’t tell them they were brownies, but I didn’t correct them either) and they ate the whole loaf in about 7 seconds.

So pack lots of food. Then pack some more.

Tacos were a huge hit!

3.) Stick to Bedtimes (or close to)

I definitely learned this one the hard way. I get it, it’s hard! I hate being the grinch that makes everyone stop mid marshmallow roast to brush teeth and hop into bed, BUT if your kids are anything like mine, they need their sleep.

Plus, chances are they will wake up early. Like with the sun, early. Mine were so excited to be camping with friends we don’t see often, that I swear it was a competition to see who could wake up first. Then of course we were all in one trailer, so as soon as one was awake, we were all awake.

By day 3, my kids were so exhausted that they could barely make it through breakfast without bursting into tears. My bestie’s kids clearly have her energy level and were absolute rockstars, but mine were losing it. In fact, they missed out on a camper versus staff soccer game because an afternoon nap was mandatory!

Another great bedtime tip is to shower before bed. We were camping in the middle of a heat wave and the sweat just made all the dust and dirt stick to the kids. Molly had dirt caked in all her little baby rolls. We all hit the showers before bed and it really helped everyone sleep more comfortably! If your campground doesn’t have showers – a baby wipe or face cloth will do.

Napping after a case of the grumpies

4.) Toys – Keep it Simple

I thought I had kept toys really simple, but I’d cut it back even more next time. We were extremely lucky that it didn’t rain at all so we were outside literally all day. Here is what I packed:

  • One small plastic shoebox with a few trucks, cars, and dinosaurs. This was not even opened. This shocked me as Rory loves his cars, but he was so busy doing other stuff that he didn’t touch a car until the ride home.
  • A basket of books. I packed books with interesting pictures and ones we haven’t read in awhile. These came in handy when my kids were feeling grumpy.
  • Sand toys. These were well used at both the campsite, the park and the beach. I had a mesh bag with an assortment of shovels, watering cans, buckets, balls, etc.
  • Baby toys. I packed a couple of Molly’s favourite toys. She played with them on the trailer floor every morning as I made breakfast and in her playpen outside. But most of the time she was happy to be playing with anything and everything she found (sand, twigs, leafs, etc.)
  • Box of art supplies. Just some paper, paint, brushes, play-dough, watercolours, our art journals and markers. We used this quite a bit and it was a nice activity for the kids while we were making dinner.

This list may seems a bit excessive, but we were in a trailer, so we had the extra room. With 5 kids, I wanted to be prepared in the event of rain. When we go tent camping next month, I’ll likely just bring a smaller bag of sand toys, 2-3 books, some art supplies and 2-3 of Molly’s favourite chew toys.

Art supplies came in handy
Even the baby loved the sand toys

5.) Divide and Conquer

I was pretty impressed with the way that Jamie and I worked together. As I mentioned above we had to pack up EVERYTHING and move campsites the second day. Although it was a lot of work for him, it just made more sense for him to plug away at it alone (well the dog kept him company) while I took to the kids to the beach. Trying to do all that work while keeping an eye on 5 kids (particularly the baby who wasn’t happy in a play pen for long) seemed like a terrible idea and I’m sure he likely got it done faster than if we’d all stuck around.

And by day 3 when our kids needed a nap, but my bestie’s were still raring to go, it made sense to divide and conquer again. He took the baby and our friends’ kids to the soccer game, while I stayed back and napped with our two oldest.

We also used this strategy for bike rides. We’d take turns staying back with the slower two or riding ahead with the confident 7 year old. Rory and Molly rode in the trailer.

Dividing and conquering was absolutely necessary to meeting the needs of all the little people we had with us and in turn keeping our sanity. We did get a lot of time together as a big group, too, but sometimes splitting up was needed.

The Memories are so Worth it!

As intimidated as I was in the days leading up to this trip, I am so grateful we decided to do it. It gave us a chance to spend some quality time with our friends’ little people and our own. The kids all got along amazingly well (they’re 7, 6, 5, 3 and 11 months) and seeing their excitement and joy made it all worthwhile. In fact, I think we’d like to make this a yearly tradition!

Camp fire fun

10 Inexpensive Ways to Make Your Child’s Birthday Special

Birthdays are a big deal in this house! But we also strive to be minimalistic (I said strive). And we’re on a pretty tight budget since I resigned from full-time teaching. So I have had to be creative in finding ways to make birthdays special for my kids without focusing on stuff.

Here is my list of 10 inexpensive ways to make your child’s birthday specia

1.) Door Sign

This is something I did for the first time for Ayla’s 6th birthday this June, but she loved it and it is definitely a tradition I plan on continuing. I hung it on her bedroom door to wake up to in the morning. I wrote the amount of time we’ve loved her in years, months, weeks and days. As a family, we also thought of 6 reasons why we love her. 

2.) Decorate Chair

This is super easy and helps make the birthday child feel special when they wake up. The other nice thing about this tradition is that older siblings can help do this for younger siblings after they are in bed. Ayla and Rory even helped decorate Daddy’s chair for his birthday in May!

We just wrap streamers around the child’s chair at the kitchen table and add a few balloons – super simple and fun!

3.) Birthday Banner

We re-use the same banner for every birthday in this house – but it wouldn’t be a birthday without it.

4.) Balloon Avalanche

I’ve seen online where people make a balloon avalanche using streamers to hold the balloons to their door, so that when they open their bedroom door in the morning, the balloons fall on them.

I modified this a bit for Ayla because I thought it may actually scare her, so I hung 6 balloons on streamers from the roof outside her bedroom door. I cannot do this for Rory yet as he has yet to stay in his own room all night, haha.

5.) Tell their Birth Story

Ayla loves this tradition! She loves hearing the details of her birth, the visitors that came to meet her, the excitement of heading to the hospital in the middle of the night. It’s a nice tradition for parents to re-visit such a special day, too.

6.) Cuddle them at the Time of their Birth

I’m lucky that my kids were born at times that make this a possibility(8:33am, 6:33pm, 10:43pm), because I’m not sure I’d attempt cuddling them at 3am, haha. I usually cry when I cuddle my kids and think about how much they’ve grown. I’m a sap!

7.) Candles in their Breakfast

We sing happy birthday and have them blow out candles in their breakfast, whatever it is. This sometimes takes a bit of creativity!

8.) Pin/Crown

We re-use the same ones every year for each child. It’s an easy way to help them feel special and when out in public it guarantees a “happy birthday” from everyone!

9.) Look at Pictures

I don’t think I’ve printed a single picture in a decade, but we crowd around my laptop and look at pictures from their birth onwards.

10.) Choose Dinner

The birthday child gets to choose whatever they want for dinner. So far in this house, it always ends up being pancakes.

I hope these ideas help you make someone’s day extra special. Please share how you make birthdays special in your house!

Christmas Tree Scented Play-dough

This isn’t our usual play-dough recipe. I was out of cream of tartar, so I turned to Google. It turns out you can use a variety of things instead, including lemon juice, which I thankfully had on hand.

My usual play-dough recipe also makes at least double this amount, and I knew I didn’t need a ton for this purpose, so I reduced the amount of ingredients, crossed my fingers… and voila – worked!

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1/4 cup salt
3/4 cup water minus 3 tablespoons
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon oil (I used vegetable)
Green food colouting
Siberian Fir essential oil (optional)

Recipe:

1.) Combine water and lemon juice in a microwaveable measuring cup until just boiling (was about 2.5 minutes for me).

2.) Meanwhile, mix flour and salt.

3.) Remove water/lemon juice from microwave. Add green food colouring (I did about 15 drops, but could have done more) and 5-10 drops of Siberian Fir (or other essential oil), if using.

4.) Stir in to dry ingredients carefully (I used a silicone spatula). Mix until dough starts to form slightly.

5.) Drizzle oil over top, then knead until dough forms. Be careful, it is still hot!

 

It felt really sticky when I first started to knead, but once it cooled the consistency was perfect. You can add a little bit of flour once it has cooled if it still feels sticky. This recipe seems equivalent to the one I usually use.. but it’s cheaper without the cream of tartar! If it holds up to my kids, then this may become my new go-to recipe.

Invitation to play

Now the fun part. Set the play-dough out with a tree shaped cookie cutter and various items to decorate your trees with. We used some beads, pompoms, pipe cleaners, jingle bells, and little gingerbread men. My sister gave Rory some wooden vehicles last weekend and they came in this awesome wooden tray… I couldn’t wait to repurpose it!

Rory really loved this activity and I know it’ll be a hit with Ayla once she’s home from school. I think it’d be even better with a bigger Christmas tree cookie cutter as ours is quite small.

 

 

This is a really simple Christmas activity! Play-dough is wonderful for fine motor development, but adding scent makes it even more fun to play with.

Build a Snail Habitat

My kids have been absolutely itching to use their bug catcher this spring. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of the idea. I feel bad about removing something from it’s natural habitat, and (perhaps even more so) I’m terrified of escapees, haha! But after this last rain, the temptation was too strong. And we found ourselves the proud new (temporary) owners of a pet snail! Say hello to Speedy.

Speedy

We agreed to keep it for a week, as long as we learned all about what it needed to stay alive. So off to the library we went. We found a few snails books and brought them home.

Ayla couldn’t wait to get started. She flipped through the pages and started to make a list of all the things we would need. She was able to get most of the information from pictures and I helped her read some of the captions. We also used subtitles to help us find any information we may have been missing. As a beginning writer, Ayla sounds out words and uses approximations. Totally normal and not something to correct. The awesome thing is she can always read what she wrote, even when I can’t.

Ayla making her list

The list

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before we began, we washed and dried the bug container. The first two things on her list were rocks and dirt. We did one layer of rocks, then added a layer of soil. She used a spray bottle to make sure the soil was nice and moist. The next two things on her list were bark and leaves. We read to stick some small pieces of bark and dried leaves into the soil, so that’s just what we did.

Dirt

Rocks

 

 

 

 

Adding small pieces of dried leaves and bark

We also read that snails like to have a small shelter, even a small container tucked into the dirt on it’s side. Ayla wasn’t happy with anything we had, so she decided to use a longer piece of bark and prop it up on the side of the container.

We learned that snails need calcium to build their shells. A great way to do this at home is to put some egg shell into their habitat. So Ayla broke up some pieces and put them in. They also like to eat fruits and vegetables, so we put in some raspberries. Ayla was certain they also liked to eat leaves and she wasn’t happy with only the dry ones, so we added some green leaves too! We sprayed the whole habitat to keep it nice and moist (which we will do daily), then we carefully picked up Speedy by his shell and put him into his new home. I don’t speak snail, but I’m pretty sure he was impressed!

Speedy’s new home

 

Ayla crossed items off her list as we added them

So not only did we learn a lot about snails and gain a very simple pet for the next week, Ayla got a chance to develop her literacy skills in a very authentic and meaningful situation. She learned about how to use a non-fiction text, gathered information from a text, organized that information using a list, strengthened her letter-sound relationships when sounding out words, and learned how to use a list. All in a highly engaging and completely voluntary situation. It’s awesome what kids are capable of when they are motivated!

 

Window Painting

 

A great summer activity

 

I’d be lying if I said today was a great day. It started much too early (4am, but that’s a whole other story) and I found it hard to shake the groggy, sleepy, and quite frankly, grumpy feeling. I had to work in the afternoon. It was so incredibly hot and I felt awful after.

As I was driving home, I was literally dreading the pass off with Jamie as we quickly ate dinner and he rushed off to work. I was already thinking about how awful the night was going to be and how bedtime couldn’t come soon enough.

But then I realized it didn’t have to be that way. That I could choose to be present and playful and we could in fact enjoy our few hours together!

I’ll be honest, sometimes I suggest process art activities for me more than for my kids. I know how much they love to paint/create and I can engage with them in a more relaxed manner. I can sit and create alongside them or simply enjoy watching them. Sometimes we chat, sometimes we sing, sometimes ew just enjoy the quiet, lost in the process.

So on that same drive home, I decided that tonight was the perfect night for some process art. I knew being outside was a necessity, so I figured why not paint our windows?!

This was the first time we’ve done this and they both loved it! Some of my favourite pictures were taken from inside the house as you can really see their focus. Ayla really enjoyed the drippy-ness of the paint and used that to create a sunset. Rory really enjoyed spraying the water and this entertained him even when he was long done with painting.

Ayla super focused

Rory enjoying himself

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is a super easy activity to prepare and better yet, the mess is easy to clean up. Read on to find out how to do it! Let me know in the comments if you try it for yourself.

Materials:

Spray bottle and squeegee

– washable paint
– paint cups (I just used mini solo cups)
– paint brushes
– spray bottle filled with water
– squeegee

 

How-to:

1.) Put some paint into the cups. Just a little bit works!

2.) Add some water. I just eye-balled it, but it was about equal parts water and paint. Just don’t skip this step or your kids won’t be able to get the paint off easily with the spray bottle.

Fun summer colours

3.) Mix the water and paint well. Add a paint brush to each cup.

4.) Set the paint outside in front of a window. Our sliding doors were an ideal surface, but any low window would work just fine.

5.) Let your kids paint the windows. Then show them how to spray their painting with water and squeegee to start all over!

6.) We decided to leave some of the painting for awhile, but a quick hose-off completely took it all off.

Hope you enjoy this activity as much as we did. Let us know in the comments if you try it out at home.

My Reflections on the Tragedy in Toronto

I had a completely different blog post under works for this week, but the horrible tragedy in Toronto that took place on Monday has left me with so many thoughts swirling around my head that I just had to get them out. In this age of digital media, we are no strangers to tragic world events. And the news of yet another tragedy, no matter where or what, always causes me to take pause, feel for those involved directly and indirectly, and consider, even if just for a second, what if this happened to me or someone I love. But then I always find some way to reassure myself that these things don’t happen here. That we are safe.

 

But it’s so very different when tragedy strikes this close to home. It takes it from an event that happens elsewhere, that affects others, to an event that happens at home. An event that could have directly affected me and my loved ones, that did directly impact people that I know and their loved ones. The feeling of sadness hits a little deeper and lingers just a little longer. I know I hugged my family a little tighter this week.

 

It also causes me to take more time to reflect, to really think about it, to wonder how on earth we’ve come to this. And I don’t claim to have all the answers, or any at all, but I do know that love, kindness and compassion start at home. I truly believe and am a strong advocate for the belief that there is no one right way to parent, that each family is free to choose what works best for it. But I do feel compelled to share some of the values that guide my journey as a parent, as a person. I’m not willing to shrug my shoulders and say “nothing I can do.” Because there is something I can do, and it starts at home.

 

In a world of deadlines, alarm clocks and schedules we’ve become so far removed from our natural instincts. We are bombarded with books and articles telling us to sleep train our infants, to punish our toddlers. We are overwhelmed with theories and rules. We hire sleep consultants, potty trainers, night nurses. We struggle with anxiety, fatigue, and depression. We let others set expectations of ourselves and of our children and we go to various lengths to live up to them. And as a result our basic human connection is suffering, at home and with others. In a world of instanteous communication we are feeling more alone than ever.

 

This tragedy only solidifies my unconscious decision to be a responsive parent. Not only because it reminds me that life is too short to be bogged down with rules and expectations, but also because I just cannot imagine that a home environment that meets a child’s physical and emotional needs could produce a 25 year old man capable of mowing down pedestrians with a rental van. It starts with responding to my infant’s cries at night, letting my babies nurse for comfort, cuddling my 2 year old back to sleep throughout the night, welcoming my 4 year old into my bed after a bad dream. I always have, and always will, respond to my children’s needs (real and perceived) day and night in a loving and comforting way.

 

In light of all the recent tragedies, particularly the school shootings, I keep seeing posts about bringing back spanking and corporal punishment, that these tragic events are somehow a direct result of children who haven’t learned respect or been punished appropriately for their wrongdoings. I may not be an expert, but I personally believe that couldn’t be further from the truth. First, let us not forget that many, many parents in North America still spank and many more did so 15-20 year ago. So it’s ridiculous to assume that the absence of physical punishment is causing violent incidents. In fact, I’d hazard a completely unscientific guess that indeed the opposite could be true.

 

Instead of spanking my children, I will talk to my children. I will teach them that physical force is never the answer. Instead of time outs, leaving my kids alone to deal with new and big emotions, I will guide my children. I will teach them to identify and work through their emotions. My goal is not to control or to punish, to make them ashamed or afraid. My goal is to help them learn from their mistakes, to right their wrongs. I cannot expect a child to make perfect decisions when I myself am not capable of perfection. I will not punish her for making a mistake or a bad choice, but I will help her reflect and move forward.

 

I am not advocating that children shouldn’t have consequences for their actions or that we shouldn’t prepare them for the ‘real world’ (two arguments I hear frequently about this style of parenting) but I am saying I strive to be my children’s soft place to land. A place where they can be their ugliest selves and still feel the unconditional love of a parent. It isn’t about raising entitled children that are free to act without consequences, but more about agreeing to be your child’s guide as they learn to navigate this world and their place in it.

 

I’m not trying to simplify what is a complex problem or shame anyone who parents differently than me. But I do hope I can cause someone to take pause and consider the idea that love creates more love. I mean in a cold, harsh world, can we really be too loved?

 

Not only do I vow to always show my kids love and compassion in our interactions – I vow to show myself the same love. I try to take care of myself, modelling how to deal with stressors in positive and productive ways. I work out, I eat well, I take time to de-compress and shut off the stressors of the outside world. We all know the old adage that kids will do as we do, not as we say, so I take my job as role model seriously.

 

Again, I’m not naïve. I know that loving our kids and responding to their needs isn’t going to solve all the of the world’s problems. I’m not attempting to place blame on the parents of any of the perpetrators, nor insinuate that your kids will grow up to do horrible things if you don’t parent a certain way. But can it hurt?

 

My own family is no stranger to mental health issues. I am not trying to downplay what are very serious and very real issues. But if I can help my kids feel safe in a world that is anything but, then I will try my best to do so.
There are no rules, no formula and I mean, what do I really know – my kids are still so young. I have yet to face the difficulties and big problems that come with big kids. But it’s hard to find an argument against kindness, against compassion.

 

These are just my thoughts, my musings, my ramblings as I try to work through the deep emotions that come from such a tragedy happening so close to home. I am so deeply sorry for the pain and suffering that has affected so many. My love is being sent to all of those affected directly, and indirectly.

 

 

 

DIY Birthday Gift Kids

Since making the decision to quit teaching full-time, I’ve had to create a budget and really stick to it. One thing that has been incredibly difficult since Ayla started school this year is birthday parties!! We try to make gifts for family members, but I’m not sure friends would appreciate a piece of child made artwork in the same way that grandparents do (or at least they let on they do – ha!).

For the first few parties, Ayla filled a box with art supplies: googly eyes, pompoms, paint etc. But it still cost quite a bit; usually because we both got carried away picking out fun supplies. But then April rolled around and she has a birthday party every weekend. And two of them are for twins!! That’s a lot of presents and for a family on a pretty tight budget, that’s a lot of money. So it was time to get creative.

We decided to make at-home activity kits with the instructions and materials for some of our favourite activities. Ayla helped me go through our recent pictures and she picked out four of her favourites: slime, bouncy balls, bath paint and chalk paint. Our first recipient was a set of twins, so she decided one would get slime and bath paint, and the second would get bouncy balls and chalk paint.

The finished products

The first thing I did was make the instructions. Each activity got it’s own card with the activity name, materials list, directions and a photo. I printed them onto heavy cardstock and laminated. The files for the activity cards can be found in the “Living Life Outside the Box” Facebook group. Feel free to use them!

Instruction card for DIY Bouncy Balls

Then I made a list of all the materials and the measurements. We made a trip to our discount store in town and got everything we needed. I also got containers for some of the materials I was going to portion out myself. Then Ayla selected two baskets to hold everything for each child.

Once home, Ayla helped me assemble the baskets. We measured out enough materials for the slime and bouncy ball recipes to be doubled (after all they are twins), labelled the containers with the contents and put into the basket. We both thought the baskets looked kind of messy with everything just sitting inside it. I remembered we had some plastic Easter grass leftover so I dug it out and placed it on the bottom on each basket and set the materials on top. It helped make it much more visually appealing!

Each kit with it's materials and instructions

 

Last, but not least we wrapped the presents in cellophane and tied with ribbon. I was a bit worried that the presents wouldn’t look like much to the kids and a mommy friend suggested we add labels. So I quickly printed some off and added them to the outside of the baskets. Perfect finishing touch!

 

The labels

 

I was worried they wouldn’t turn out, but both Ayla and I are very happy with the finished product. She is excited to give them to her friends and is quite upset she had to miss the party due to this nasty Spring ice/snow/rain storm we are having. We really try to give gifts that are thoughtful and made with the person in mind. It’s not always easy on a budget, but I think we accomplished just that.

 

Below, I’ll show photos of each activity card and it’s corresponding ingredients in case you want to make some of your own kits!

 

Kit #1: DIY Slime and Bath Paint

 

We actually included two packs of school glue so that the recipe for the slime can be doubled. Originally I was going to put the measured contact solution into the same type of container as the baking soda, but it wasn’t spill-proof, so thankfully I found a baby food jar in our craft cupboard downstairs. Next time I I would use a little travel sized liquids container, but the jar did just well in a pinch. The food colouring is needed for both recipes, so we included a whole pack. That way they can make 6 different colours (with some mixing) for the bath paints. I really wanted to use a muffin tin with 6 spaces, but couldn’t find a tin foil one, so we improvised with 6 individual cups. We also included 6 paint brushes as we wanted to make sure they had everything they needed to do the activities!

 

KIT #2: DIY Bouncy Balls and Chalk Paint

The cornstarch is needed for both activities, so there’s two containers. There is enough to double both recipes. I decided it wasn’t worth the sticky mess to try and measure out the white glue, so we just included a whole 4 fl. oz. bottle. Again, we included a whole pack of food colouring in this kit so they can make a variety of colours of chalk paint. I decided on foam brushes, as I find they paint nicer with the chalk paint outdoors.

 

 

 

We hope we’ve inspired you to try something similar! If you do, please share with us in the comment section or on our Facebook page (link) or group (link).

 

If you have any questions at all, please send me an email at Katherine@lifeoutsidethebox.ca

 

Happy creating!

 

 

Why I Talk About the Baby I Miscarried

 

I stumbled upon this piece I wrote in February 2015, after losing our baby and felt compelled to finally share it.

 

Miscarriage is one of those things we don’t talk about. We keep pregnancies secret for months, and weep silent tears when we experience a loss. Of course, I knew some women who had miscarried: close friends, family. I knew the stats (1 in 4 pregnancies). But what I didn’t know was how many people in my life had been affected by miscarriage, until it happened to our family.

 

The stories flooded in… from co-workers, my midwife, friends of friends, distant relatives, nurses, even my boss. I don’t wish this pain on anyone, but I did take comfort in these stories. Our family felt less alone in our grief.

 

I’m not a private person. I’ve been accused of being an over-sharer. But my need to talk about my miscarriage goes deeper than that. Here are a few reasons why talking about my loss is so important to me.

 

1.) Normalizing the Experience

As I left my ultrasound that fateful morning, I was so angry. What had I done wrong? What should I have done differently? If only I had worked out more. Or not worked out so hard. If I had eaten more vegetables. Or less sweets. I hated my body for failing me. Why couldn’t it have done what it was meant to do! And although it took me some time to truly believe this, it was not my fault.

 

Talking about miscarriage serves to normalize it. It lets other women know that it is not their fault. It lets you know nothing is wrong with you. It removes the blame that is all too often associated with this experience. You feel like you shouldn’t talk about it because people will judge you. They will wonder what you did wrong. But they don’t. You did nothing wrong.

 

Sharing my experience and having others share theirs with me, validated my feelings. Miscarriage is awful. It is a loss. A very real one. It hurts and you need to grieve. Staying silent about the experience implies it’s not a real loss. You would never hide the death of your father or a close friend. So why do we hide the loss of an unborn baby?

 

2.) Healing

I heal through talking. I talk about everything. I need to. Every detail, every angle. I reflect on every feeling and share every thought. It is how I cope. Now, I can recognize that not everyone heals in this way. My partner tends to seek solitude, reflecting inwardly. As you can imagine, I can exhaust him. But he lets me talk, and even encourages it, as he knows how important it is to my healing process.

 

During one of many conversations I had with my midwife she warned me that many people say well-meaning, but insensitive things following a miscarriage. While not un-true, I was not bothered by this in the least. I could recognize the effort behind the words, and appreciate that the other person was attempting to reach out. That they were talking and most importantly, letting me talk. What I found harder was silence. Those people that would look at you with pity in their eyes. They didn’t say anything not for fear of upsetting you or a lack of words, but in fear you would talk. Or the visible discomfort in some people as I told my story. That was harder to handle than the insensitive comments. The understanding that some people feel that these stories of loss are better left untold.

3.) Honouring the Baby

 

My biggest fear throughout this journey has been that I will move on. That I will become pregnant again one day, and forget about the hopes I hoped and the dreams I dreamed for this baby. Not another baby, this one. Talking about my experience helps me to feel as though I am honouring this baby as a member of our family.

 

If I didn’t talk about my experience and outwardly acknowledge the loss, I know I would have a hard time attempting to have another baby when the time comes. I am not trying to replace this baby. He will forever hold a special piece of my heart.

 

I believe all pregnancies should be celebrated. With my first pregnancy with my daughter, I hated staying silent for the first trimester until I was “in the clear.” As a first time mom, I could barely contain my excitement. I ended up breaking my own self-imposed silence with many family members and friends, but waited to tell others until after my 12 week ultrasound. It was such a let-down for me. I was over the moon thrilled, and I had to keep it to myself (remember, I’m an over-sharer).

 

With this pregnancy, I didn’t wait. I told anyone and everyone within weeks of finding out. We were growing our family! I couldn’t contain my happiness. And I don’t regret it at all. After finding out the baby had stopped growing, I had to tell all of my friends, family, co-workers, neighbours that I was going to lose the baby. And you know what. I was ok with that. I was overwhelmed with the love and support our family was shown. So many people reached out to me, and for that I’m eternally grateful. But most of all, people knew. They knew of the life I had had growing inside me. They knew of the life that had been lost. What better way to honour our baby.

 

My hope is that we stop suffering in silence. That we acknowledge and celebrate every life, and that we honour the babies we lose. As a dear friend said to me, this is part of the story of my family. I tell it with a tear in my eye and love in my heart.

The Basics of Sensory Play

To break down the basics of Sensory play – I’ve devised the 3 S’s of Sensory play.

S – Senses

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates one, or more, of a child’s senses (touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight and hearing).

It can be as simple as smelling flowers on a walk to the park.

S – Stimulating

Sensory activities encourage exploration and invite children to play, create and investigate.

S- Safe

When planning sensory activities, keep safety in mind. Think about choking hazards, toxicity of materials, etc. You know your child best!

The Benefits of Sensory Play:

There are many proven benefits to provide your child with sensory stimulating experiences, including:

  • language development;
  • cognitive growth;
  • fine and/or gross motor skills;
  • problem solving skills; and
  • social interaction.

Basic Supplies

It helps to keep a few things on hand to facilitate sensory activities. Some ideas include:

  • measuring cups and spoons;
  • a large deep bin or water/sand table;
  • large freezer bags;
  • hair gel;
  • baby oil;
  • shaving or whipped cream;
  • glitter, sparkles or sequins;
  • spices, etc.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but with these materials, you will easily be able to participate in many of the sensory activities I share without running to the store.